Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

No Thailand itinerary is complete without checking out the best things to do in Chiang Mai. Located in the mountainous terrain of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a land of culture and scenic landscapes and a must-see destination for your first trip to Thailand.

Chiang Mai is the former seat of the Lanna Kingdom. Its royal past has left behind plenty of traditional Thai culture for travelers to experience. History buffs will love visiting notable historic sites like the Royal Park Rajapruek and ancient temples like Wat Phra Singh. Nature lovers can escape Chiang Mai to explore pristine natural wonders, including lush rainforests and bucolic small villages.

If you’re interested in modern Thai culture, wander the streets of Thailand’s fourth-biggest city to go shopping in boutiques and stores along Tha Pae Walking Street. In the evening, tackle all your Thai food cravings at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar or at the many restaurants and eateries scattered around the Old City. For some entertainment, enjoy a couple of cocktails at one of the area’s bars or experience the legendary Thai nightlife at its nightclubs.

Ready to kick-start your Northern Thailand vacation? Start planning the ultimate trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Chiang Mai, Thailand!

What to see & do in Chiang Mai

Climb the peaks at Doi Suthep-Pui National Park

Dive into the heart of Northern Thailand at Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. At this famed nature park, ancient forests frame Thailand’s two holiest peaks: Doi Suthep and Doi Pui. Both are located in the majestic Thanon Thong Chai Range.

Doi Suthep Put National Park

Explore Doi Suthep-Pui National Park to discover its deciduous and evergreen forests. Bring along your camera to capture photos of its thousands of species of plants and cascading waterfalls. The vibrant park is not just a haven of greenery: It also pulses with wildlife, from hundreds of bird species to mammals like dholes, Assam macaques, and Malayan porcupines.

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is home to several cultural attractions. Take time to visit its Hmong Hill Tribe Villages, including Baan Doi Pui and Baan Mae Sa Mai. Marvel at the golden stupa of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep while enjoying spectacular views over the city.

Craving help with your adventure? Join one of the many guided tours that lead you through the park. Be sure to pace yourself: The park’s treasures are so plentiful that uncovering them all might fill your entire day.

Watch over 400 animal species at the Chiang Mai Zoo

Nestled just two kilometers from Chiang Mai’s bustling heart, the Chiang Mai Zoo hosts a myriad of animals, from camels and giraffes to tigers and bears. If you’re traveling to Thailand with kids, this popular attraction is the perfect place for a fun day out with the family.

Panda at Chiang Mai Zoo

Explore the zoo’s variety of habitats, including its African Zone and the Nakornping Bird Park. Watch sharks and stingrays swim around you in the Chiang Mai Zoo Aquarium. It’s the largest marine aquarium in Asia and features the world’s longest underwater viewing tunnel.

Of course, before leaving, you also won’t want to miss the chance to watch the zoo’s magnificent giant pandas chomping down bamboo. It’s the highlight of the Chiang Zoo for most travelers—kids and adults alike!

After watching the animals play, unwind with cool ice cream or savor a delicious meal at the on-site restaurant.

Unfortunately, if you’re limited to 24 hours in Chiang Mai, the zoo is one of the attractions you may need to skip. As with Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, a trip to the zoo can take up most of the day.

Eat or buy almost anything on Tha Pae Walking Street

Located in the heart of the Old City, Tha Pae Walking Street buzzes with activity every Sunday from the afternoon to midnight. Although only a once-a-week affair, this area is one of the most popular places to go shopping in Chiang Mai for locals and tourists. If your itinerary allows for it, don’t miss the opportunity to swing by this top destination!

Tha Pae Walking Street

Dive into the vibrant street stalls along Tha Pae Walking Street. Browse everything from jewelry and cheap clothing to art, handmade goods, and souvenirs. Discover tantalizing local cuisine at the various street food vendors lining the street.

Note that Tha Pae Walking Street isn’t limited to just one avenue. It stretches across four lively streets, with even more stalls weaving into neighboring streets and alleys. Dedicate a few hours to truly soak in the experience.

Beyond the bustling street, the Old City of Chiang Mai offers a wealth of attractions. Once you’ve explored the market, immerse yourself in the area’s ancient temples, museums, monuments, restaurants, and cafes.

Listen to live music as you shop for souvenirs at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Dive into the pulsating heart at the vibrant Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. One of the city’s premier shopping and entertainment hubs, this nightly hotspot lights up evenings in Thailand’s 4th-biggest city. Explore the famous night market and the surrounding blocks to sample its wonderful selection of shops, restaurants, eateries, and clubs.

Kick off your journey by weaving through bustling lanes lined with stalls. Practice your bargaining skills and haggle over handcrafted jewelry, textiles, clothing, souvenirs, and unique trinkets.

Night Bazaar

Feeling peckish? Your taste buds will be in for a treat as you sample sizzling street food and authentic Thai delicacies. Find a comfortable spot to slurp a tangy Tom Yum soup, nibble savory skewers, or gobble up a delicious pad Thai.

If you’re looking for a wild night out on the town, let the sounds of live music beckon you to one of the area’s many bars and nightclubs.

Feeling a little holiday stress? Indulge in a traditional Thai massage. As skilled hands knead away your day’s fatigue, you’ll feel every ounce of tension melt away.

Climb to the top of Wat Phra Singh for panoramic views of the city

Located in the western part of the Old City, Wat Phra Singh is one of the city’s most-visited temples. With its dazzling golden pagoda, this beautiful Buddhist temple is an absolute must-see, especially on a first-time visit to Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra Singh

As you approach the Wat Phra Singh temple complex, the pagoda’s gold leaf façade catches the sunlight, glowing intensely. For a more serene and less “glaring” experience, consider an evening visit. Not only will you dodge the daytime crowds of tourists, but you’ll also enjoy the pagoda’s gentle shimmer under the golden hour sun.

Step inside the interior of the halls to unveil a world of intricate artistry. Buddha statues stand in serene contemplation, flanked by detailed elephant carvings, narrating tales from Buddhist lore.

Brace yourself for a rewarding climb up to the temple buildings. A few hundred steps later, the city unfurls beneath you in a breathtaking panoramic view.

Hop on the bus and enjoy the Chiang Mai Night Safari

Discover nocturnal wonders on the thrilling Chiang Mai Night Safari! The second experience of its kind in the world, this route offers an unparalleled adventure. Traverse the 320-acre landscape aboard a guided bus and witness majestic animals from Africa and Asia roaming freely in their habitats, all under the moonlit sky.

Macaw at Chiang Mai Night Safari

The Chiang Mai Night Safari is an immersive zoo experience with guided tours. The attraction is split into three captivating zones. The Savanna Safari Zone beckons with animals from the African savanna, such as zebras and giraffes. Next, feel the adrenaline in the Predator Prowl Zone, home to crocodiles, tigers, lions, and other carnivorous animals.

Craving a more intimate encounter? Embark on a walking tour in the Jaguar Trail Zone. This 1.2-kilometer trail winds around a serene lake nestled at the foot of the magnificent Doi Suthep mountain range.

Ride a bike around the Royal Park Rajapruek

Nestled amidst Chiang Mai’s top tourist attractions, the Royal Park Rajapruek flower gardens beckon visitors with their vibrant allure. Sprawling t00 acres in the Mae Hia sub-district, this botanical garden boasts diverse individual gardens, a mesmerizing butterfly house, and a majestic pavilion.

Royal Park Rajapruek

Every inch of Royal Park Rajapruek radiates intention, from the ornate royal pavilion to the meticulous landscaping around the gardens.

Get your camera ready as you approach the majestic Royal Pavilion, standing tall in the park’s heart. Its intricate Lanna architecture tells tales of Thai heritage. The pavilion is a sight to behold against the backdrop of Doi Suthep Mountain.

Not keen on walking through the park? You can effortlessly traverse the trails on rented bikes or the hop-on/hop-off tram, weaving past orchids and other native flora.

Time your visit to catch the sunset and watch as Royal Park Rajapruek transforms under the golden hue, casting ethereal reflections on its serene ponds.

Experience the mystique of Wat Chedi Luang

Searching out Chiang Mai’s historical soul? Step into the timeless beauty of Wat Chedi Luang. Famed for its crumbling 282-foot-high chedi, this stunning 14th-century is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

Wat Chedi Luang

Enter Wat Chedi Luang to get enveloped by centuries of history. Behold the massive chedi (stupa) stretching skywards, an emblem of the golden age of the Mangrai Dynasty. Though time has worn its intricate spires and facades, the chedi’s majesty remains undiminished.

Pop into the temple’s largest viharn to marvel at Phra Chao Attarot, a large golden standing Buddha. Although the golden-colored viharn was only completed in 1928, the Buddha statue dates back to the temple’s founding in the 14th century.

Where to stay in Chiang Mai for sightseeing

With the city’s popularity among travelers, you can bet that choosing where to stay in Chiang Mai isn’t always easy. For most travelers, the best areas to stay include Old Town, Haiya, and Nimman. All these neighborhoods provide excellent access to the top points of interest in Chiang Mai and have plenty of great accommodation options.

  • Rinn Boutique House: One of the best budget picks in the city, this hotel features bright and modern rooms that offer plenty of space and a patio for your relaxation.
  • Pingviman Hotel: This elegant hotel charms guests instantly with its traditional Thai architectural stylings. Besides the sophisticated and luxurious rooms, the hotel features an on-site restaurant serving authentic Thai cuisine.
  • Thai Akara – Lanna Boutique Hotel: Located in Old Town, this luxury hotel is an absolute gem. The hotel is decked out with excellent amenities, including a relaxing outdoor pool area and an on-site Thai restaurant.

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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